Someone once said that music can change the world because it can change people.
Arnola Leverson, longtime piano teacher and accompanist for countless students and groups in Minot, is living proof of this simple quote.
Leverson began taking piano lessons when she was just 7 years old and has since taught lessons to more than 250 students and accompanied thousands.
As a child, Leverson would trek across the street to her piano teacher’s house, schoolbooks in hand. Having grown up in a musical family, Leverson said she and all four siblings were encouraged to take piano lessons. Her mother did not play piano herself but loved music and wanted her children to grow up experiencing it. While Leverson also played the flute and auxiliary percussion in her lifetime, piano was always her favorite.
In eighth grade, Leverson began taking lessons from Doris Schroder, a piano teacher who would greatly impact her life. While Schroder was an avid piano player in her youth, she had developed arthritis and couldn’t play anymore. Because of this, she could teach her students but could not demonstrate by playing any songs.
Leverson said Schroder was the first person who encouraged her to begin accompanying groups, which she quickly grew to love, and was eye-opening in the delight of being able to demonstrate. Now, Leverson demonstrates songs as much as possible for her students “because I can.”
The very first group Leverson accompanied was the boy’s chorus in Mohall when she was only in ninth grade. In the years following, Leverson has accompanied or still accompanies the Erik Ramstad Jr. High choir, Magic City groups and singers, Central Campus, Jim Hill Jr. High and many festivals in towns nearby. She also plays the piano for her church, First Lutheran, and has been involved in the production of “Messiah” for more than 50 years.
In addition, Leverson is president of the Minot Piano Teachers group, has been a member of the Minot Symphony Orchestra and has been chairman of the Gold Cup Piano Festival for 38 years.
“There are so many great piano players in the city of Minot but so many of them are not available to do what I have made myself available to do,” said Leverson, who dedicated her life to piano after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Minot State in elementary education and music.
Along with accompanying and being a member of the aforementioned groups, Leverson has been teaching piano lessons to students for 52 years, beginning at the impressive age of 16.
And still, Leverson’s love for piano is just as strong as it was more than half a century ago. “There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not happy to play piano,” she said.
Even Leverson’s grandchildren are learning to play. “The plan was always that they would take lessons from grandma,” she said with a smile.
Leverson said that because being able to play the piano is the basis of many other instruments, it teaches kids rhythm, names of notes and the discipline of being with a teacher. “It is also such a great way to communicate,” she said. “For me, piano playing has always been an outlet for my mood, and I encourage students to use piano for this as well.”
Because the lives of students are usually busy, Leverson said that she never wants a student to have to choose between piano and a sport. Though she usually teaches lessons during the weekdays, she said that she is flexible and will teach on the weekends if that is the only time a student can meet. She said that if seniors in high school, for example, have stayed in piano for as long as they have regardless of busy lives, she will work with their schedules as much as she can.
“The most important thing is the student,” Leverson said, beaming as she told many stories of students who came in to her class shy and nervous and left with excitement and “their true selves shining through.”
At 68 years old, Leverson said she would not change her dedication to piano for the world.
“It has given me a really interesting life,” she said. “It is something I’ve found great pleasure in doing, and through it I have met so many great musicians, had the chance to work with wonderful people and it has even given me the opportunity to travel. My life would not be what it is today without it.”